This is a very interesting and important goal for the child and the parent. What parent does not want their child to be “self-regulated” and happy?
The first step in helping your child be “self-disciplined” is through setting limits. Setting limits is different than enforcing consequences. Consequences are a natural event; however, when a parent uses consequences as a “whipping stick,” then it becomes something entirely different. Limits are different, and they are clear and appropriate boundaries set to help the child learn self-regulation. When limits are set with empathy, the child knows that the limit set is with love and they can trust it is for their best interest, even when they are not sure that they like the limit. Self-regulation is a valuable tool for a parent to pass on to a child.
Permissive parents do not enhance the child’s self-control and their efforts backfire. You see, the child is looking for a person to pattern their lives after, and they want one that is consistent and loving. They want a controlled life, and so they are seeking the ability to regulate self-control. Setting limits is the key to this issue of self-control.
So you say, what is this idea of “empathetic limit-setting”? As a parent, if you enforce punitive limits or consequences (even though they may be considered warranted and natural), and you do this without empathy, you will not get the results desired. The limit setting comes from “outside” versus their own self-control. The problem is that the limit is based on punitive behavior that results from that behavior or choice, versus the child’s own self-motivated and self-regulated limits that he/she has taught themselves. Limits with empathy help the child begin to exercise their “self-regulating muscle” and learn self-control.
What do I mean? Think about your son practicing his jump shot over and over. He may want to sit down and rest, but there’s something he wants more –a basket! Being motivated toward a goal is a great way for kids to develop self-discipline.
But kids also learn self-discipline from the daily limits you set, as long as you set them with empathy. Why is empathy essential to this process? Because your child is less likely to struggle against the limit. She may not like your limit, but she feels your understanding and compassion. She knows you’re on her side. So she chooses to stop fighting for what she wants, so she can have something she wants more — to stay lovingly connected to you, even to be “like” you. She chooses to regulate her impulses. She accepts your limit, and also internalizes it — makes it her own.we must not confuse discipline and punishment. God calls us to be self-disciplined. We must teach and display self-discipline.
That’s how your child internalizes your rules and values. It begins with the connection — he WANTS to please you, as long as he doesn’t have to give up his own integrity to do it. Over time, he begins to think of himself as the kind of person who brushes his teeth, does his homework, tells the truth, and lends a helping hand. The kind of person who can apply himself with discipline to achieve his goals. That makes for a confident, happy, cooperative child.